March 16, 2009

Learn to Shoot

One of my Adventure Club's favorite activities was the firing range. Several in my group grew up in hunting families or have had military training with firearms but for me, this was a first. I found the challenge of learning to control a deadly explosion to be intoxicating.

Our evening began when we made a group reservation at a local indoor range. Seven of us arrived, signed in and were led into a room lined with gun cases. Behind the locked glass were firearms of every size and type -- antique pistols, police handguns and hunting rifles through military weaponry. There, we watched a safety video and took a written gun safety test. Then we were lead to a case with 9mm handguns, Glocks, (the 9 millimeter refers to the size of the bullet) and each woman received a surprisingly heavy weapon and an unloaded clip. Up to this point, the experience had been a little intimidating. I'll admit that most of us were uncomfortable with our firearms. Many of the women held their guns like they were holding a dirty diaper -- with three fingers and at arm's length.

Leaving the gun room we were given safety goggles and ear protection (think '80s stereo headphones) and escorted into the firing range itself. The range is so loud that it's behind two sets of glass doors. In fact, once you've passed through the second set, conversation becomes very difficult.

The range is set up a little like a bowling alley for individuals: station at one end, long "alley" and your target at the opposite end. Just like in bowling, you DON'T enter that alley area.

We began by choosing a station -- each person had her own firing area that was separated from the others by a floor-to-ceiling wall and separated from the target by a small counter space. A paper silhouette of a man hung from track that ran along the ceiling. The paper silhouette -- the target -- could be positioned at any distance chosen by the shooter. We reviewed how to load a single cartridge into the clip, how to hold the gun correctly, how to use the sights to aim, and then we fired. I was expecting the kickback but was surprised by the blue flame from the end of the barrel and the force with which the spent shell was ejected from the gun. After the first few rounds, the surprise wore off and we were filling the clip and filling our targets with holes. One member traded in her Glock for a Smith & Wesson revolver (think Old West). I tested that one myself and didn't want to give it back.

By the time we had each finished a box of ammo we felt comfortable and much more confident. No one walked out of the range holding her pistol diaper style! (Though we were cautioned to wash our hands thoroughly-- to remove all the lead residue.)

All told, after we paid for instruction, range time and ammunition, the cost was about $75 per person. I don't want to own a gun and I don't want a gun in my house but the I loved my time at the range and the experience was totally worth the expense.

To find a shooting range in your area, click here for the NRA's National Registry of Places to Shoot.

Image credit: K. Briggs / P. Farrell

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